The Last Lear

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Toronto International Film Festival

TORONTO -- "The Last Lear" misfires at every level -- as an art or experimental film, as a story and character study, even as a vehicle for India's most beloved star, Amitabh Bachchan. Which comes as a surprise since its Bengali director, Rituparno Ghosh, is no Johnny-come-lately, having made award-winning films for over a decade. The film represents a major miscalculation in its adaptation of what must be a fairly static play and its use of Bachchan as an aging Shakespearian actor.

Most festival directors will take a film with this pedigree, so "The Last Lear" can ride the circuit as long as it likes. But theatrical opportunities are limited despite the decision to shoot the film almost entirely in English.

Bachchan plays aging Harish Mishra, who has left the stage to retreat to his Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) flat. A hotshot new-style film director, Siddharth (Arjun Rampal), persuades him to make his first movie appearance ever in a film about an old, disfigured clown in a dying circus.

The film takes place both in flashback -- from the movie's premiere while Harish lies in a mysterious coma -- and as a film within a film. This is perhaps too much gimmickry for such slender and overly melodramatic material. The film derives from a play by Bengali actor-playwright Utpal Dutt. And all too often, when it reverts to three women holed up in Harish's flat, smoking, eating and gossiping, it feels laboriously like a play.

The flashbacks to the film set in a Himalayan hill station with its scenes of rehearsals and the old actor coming alive as he mentors a young actress (matinee idol Preity Zinta) are largely unfocused. The revelation of how Harish so gravely injured himself on that set is downright silly.

That said, it is still a pleasure to watch and listen to Bachchan declaiming lines from "Lear" and rendering advice and wisdom in his rich, stentorian voice. But it is not enough to sustain such a fooling film.

THE LAST LEAR
Planman Motion Pictures

Director: Rituparno Ghosh
Writers: Rituparno Ghosh, Anjana Basu
Based on the play by: Utpal Dutt
Producer: Arindam Chaudhuri
Executive producer: Shubho Shekhar Bhattacharjee
Director of photography: Abhik Mukherjee
Production designer: Indronell Ghosh
Costume designer: Varsha - Shilpa
Music: Raja Narayan Deb, Sanjoy Das
Editor: Arghya Kamal Mitra

Cast:
Mishra: Amitagh Buchchan
Shabnam: Preity Zinta
Siddharth: Arjun Rampal
Vandana: Shefali Shah
Ivy: Divya Dutta
Journalist: Jisshu Sengupta

No MPAA rating, running time 123 minutes

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